This one is actually a ‘two birds with one stone’ kind of deal. On the one hand we have the sticky rubber that we now love on our tyres, and on the other we have Five Ten’s ‘Stealth’ rubber that created an entirely new dimension in the world of flat pedal grip.
Starting with tyres, it used to be a case of simply deciding which tread pattern you were going to go for. Then we started to get the odd choice in casing, but that was mainly for price Vs weight reasons rather than anything else. The first real change in compound that I remember was when I saw someone with some ‘Magic’ Panaracer Smoke/Dart tyres at a DH race. These things were super hard to get hold of, expensive, and wore out in seconds. They were white because they had no carbon black in them, which in turn meant they were far softer and grippier than usual. Ok, so they definitely weren’t great by modern standards, but they clearly got people thinking that they was something to be gained in this whole compound game because it wasn’t long before we then got treated to tyres like Michelin’s legendary Comp 16. Along with suspension and disc brakes I think it is the improvement in tyre compounds that have enabled us to go so much faster on our bikes, especially around corners.
As for Five Ten’s insanely sticky shoes, well what is there to say? They’ve been around for years now and despite all that time to work out how it’s done the competition still haven’t managed to match the grip. When we first got to try some we really couldn’t believe how good they were, and no matter how hard you tried to explain their performance to someone who hadn’t tried them, you couldn’t. It was only when they themselves tried a pair on that they too realised what all the fuss was about. It seems crazy to say it, but the sole of one pair of shoes really did change the face of flat pedal riding.
There was a time when the only mountain bike bars that you could buy were flat, and very narrow. A handful of motocross riders who also rode DH quickly realised that they could ride a whole lot faster if they chucked a pair of MX bars on their bike. For a while that was the only route to what we’d now deem to be sensible bars, but then dedicated mountain bike riser bars gradually started to appear. Like many other riders the first pair I managed to get my hands on were some Club Roost ones that came complete with a cross-brace. These sold like hot cakes cos they were pretty cheap and they instantly transformed your bike. Before long though it was Azonic bars that everyone seemed to be lusting after.
Anyway, apart from helping us to ride much faster, riser bars also kind of marked a new era in mountain biking, and let everyone else know that you were part of it. DH racing was still very much the baby of the sport, XC was king, and those guys definitely didn’t get the whole riser bar thing. A riser bar was a sign to others that you didn’t give a toss about who could climb a fire road the fastest, you were in it for the adrenaline. It was the equivalent of a leather jacket in the rockers Vs mods war.
Clutch Rear Mechs
Who would have thought that just a tiny switch on a rear mech could make so much difference? The fact is though that we think Shimano’s introduction of their Shadow+ ‘clutch’ rear mechs is one of the biggest advancements in bike gears since the introduction of indexed gears (that in itself should possibly be in this list, but I am sure there would be a load of the retro bike crowd saying that you still can’t beat a friction thumb shifter). Apart from making any bike a whole lot quieter on rough ground, these rear mechs also massively reduce the chance of you dropping your chain, and that has been a bugbear of mountain biking ever since we started.
Before these mechs came along I used to hate having to ride a bike with anything but a single ring and chain device simply because I’d always be having to put the chain back on, but now I’m happy to ride a double or triple setup as long as it is combined with one of these. Thank you Mr Shimano, you’ve made all our lives a whole lot better.